The third Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize at the University of London has been awarded to Clara Tait, a part-time MSc Psychology student at Birkbeck, for her collection ‘These were the hours: Nancy Cunard and the Hours Press 1928-1931’. A runner’s up prize was awarded to Arendse Lund for a collection of Icelandic sagas in various languages.
The prize is funded by Anthony Davis, a retired lawyer and alumnus of Birkbeck. It is intended to encourage students of the university in the early stages of developing their collections of books and manuscripts. It’s a trend well established in the US and now building in the UK.
The scheme is also supported by Senate House Library (SHL), the Institute of English Studies (IES) at the university’s School of Advanced Study and the Antiquarian Booksellers Association. It consists of £500 for the student personally, and £250 for the purchase of a book which the winner chooses for Senate House Library.
Judges - Anthony Davis, Professor Simon Eliot (IES), Dr Karen Attar (SHL), and Brian Lake and Justin Croft of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association - said the three years since the first prize have seen a succession of entries on widely differing collections and an increasing level of interest. There were some 15 submissions in 2016.
Clara’s winning collection around the English-American shipping heiress Nancy Cunard began with a chance discovery on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Paris. She aims to collect the 23 books published by the Hours Press, including works by authors such as Ezra Pound, Samuel Beckett and Laura Riding. And she will add important publications by Cunard and bring together biographical works and novels which include Nancy as a character.
‘Dazzling and defiant, Nancy Cunard placed herself firmly in the literary circles of Paris and London in the 1920s and 30s, and her experimental Hours Press offers a glimpse of the impassioned innovation of writers during the uncertainty of those interwar years,’ explains Clara.
Arendse says she loved reading Icelandic sagas and the history writers, such as Saxo Grammaticus. ‘To support my developing understanding of Old Norse I often used translations either into Danish or English. Some of these translations were new, some older, and since I have published translations myself, my interest was piqued how translations had functioned over time as the tool to transmit knowledge of the texts. I bought several translations into Danish and English of the same texts from various periods and compared them. I found the translations no less interesting than the originals.’
Clara Tait will have the opportunity to talk about her collection at an Institute of English Studies seminar. She also helped to select a new acquisition for Senate House Library’s special collections. Both winner and runner-up also exhibit some of their books at the Library.
'The level of entries for the prize this year was very high, both in numbers and in quality. It is marvellous that in this technological age so many students are interested in collecting old books,’ says Anthony Davis.
‘It was a hard decision to award the prize but the two winners are both very promising collectors with a real love of books. Leading on from the success of the prize there is also a proposal by several of those who have competed for the prize this year and in previous years to start a bibliophiles society based on the university, which is further encouragement to those who believe in the future of books and collecting.'